SAG's new leadership a lot like the old

by Paul William Tenny

Screen Actors Guild logoI was under the (apparently mistaken) impression that the takeover of SAG's national leadership by the Unite for Strength faction and the New York wonks was supposed to make things more civil so that they could get the business of bargaining a new contract with the studios out of the way. These guys (and gals) have been working without a contract for almost a year now.

Well, so much for that fantasy.

There were a lot of bad things said about the Membership First people and as someone not at all familiar with SAGs internals, I really don't know how much of it was true, only that enough of it was believed that US gained enough seats to fire executive director Doug Allen and to replace the entire negotiating committee. Had I written about any of that, I would have liked to believe that I would have issued a word of caution or two. New guys or not, good intentions or not, politics is politics and abusive behavior is often only considered abusive when it's being done by the other guy.

When you become the other guy, well, politics is politics as they say.

Case in point: United for Strength allegedly promised not to personally attack anyone that disagreed with their agenda, rebuking the tactics of the previous leadership as unproductive. But when you're in the minority it's very easy to say things like that because there's really nothing you can do to prove it and then be held accountable for what you said, but it's a lot harder when you're the one calling the shots.

US used a mailing list of all SAG members to bash the "vote no" core which would seem to violate their promise not to attack their union's dissenters (presumably because they were attacked in the same way when MF was running the show) and beyond that, it's just a really crappy and abusive thing to do.

It's one thing to use donated funds to present your agenda and aggressively attack your opponents as having the wrong ideas, but to use an internal union administrative list and launch political propaganda on it against your opponents who can't respond in kind, with guild funds, is just reprehensible behavior at best, and maybe even illegal at worst.

Again, it's not surprising at all that the previous minority faction that cried foul over abusive behavior has turned around and become the aggressor now that they are in charge -- that happens all the time especially in national politics -- but it's still distasteful behavior.

Moreover I find it somewhat amusing that the new leadership is finding it hard to get their agenda passed. MF wanted to bargain hard and then strike -- but fouled it up -- because they figured (like the WGA did) that the studios were not going to give in without a strike. US believed that no better terms were possible (especially once the recession went into full effect -- even though the movie business is doing record revenue) and was handed control based on the promise to sit down with the studios and get whatever can be gotten, so that everyone could go back to work.

Only things didn't quite work out the way they had hoped. At first the studios refused to sit down and talk, and once they finally did and the new SAG leadership got a firm offer (I haven't seen it but I'd be shocked if it were anything other than what the WGA got), the SAG membership seems to want to vote it down. Not just by a slim majority, but so overwhelmingly that it would be a huge embarrassment for the new guys who rode to power on the promise of making this mess go away, but has ended up looking equally as inept as the old crew. [Note: follow that link for a report on a recent meeting that has a lot about this current mess.]

However you want to look at the results of the WGA strike, it seems painfully obvious by now that SAG leadership could learn a few things from the WGA on how to conduct negotiations. They may not have gotten everything they wanted and in fact may not have gotten anything they really wanted, but at least they got new contract faster than SAG has and they did it without looking like total lapdogs (hello DGA), so that has to count for something.

Disclaimer: For the record, I am against the latest contract that US is pushing just as much as I was against the contract that the WGA eventually agreed to. Both are garbage for "new media" (Hulu) and cannot be tolerated. The home video debacle cannot happen again with new media and there's little point in even having unions to begin with if all you're going to do is allow management to dictate contracts in all the meaningful ways. How SAG gets there is up to them, but getting there shouldn't be optional.
in Film, Labor, Television


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